Why are Student Leaders Important Overseas?

What is a Student Leader?

Our Student Leader programme helps support our summer volunteers and enable them to have extra support whilst overseas, the programme was developed in 2012 and we are now in our second year. Student Leaders’ role starts in the UK in the Autumn/Winter before a summer project, and they recruit a team of between 6 and 8 volunteers from their University to go to Thailand or India for 4-6 weeks. In the run up to going overseas Student Leaders help support volunteers with fundraising and preparation for their project.

What is the role of a Student Leader overseas?

Arrival of Team 2 of volunteers in Thailand

Arrival of Team 2 of volunteers in Thailand

Student Leaders arrive a couple of days before volunteers to enable them to visit projects before volunteers’ arrival. Student Leaders are able to support our volunteers throughout their project but especially in the first week or so when it takes a while to adjust; the language barrier and change in culture can be daunting. Student Leaders also have their own projects where they teach (but volunteer support is given priority) and they encourage their team of volunteers to get involved in extra curricula activities from teaching in the community to holding classes for teachers after school. Student Leaders provide ongoing support throughout the project and obtain feedback from key stakeholders in the final week of the volunteers project.

Why are they important?

Volunteers often have questions in their first week and Student Leaders can help to answer them and help volunteers adjust to being overseas, whether that’s to the food, to basic living accommodation or to the early mornings! Student Leaders also help to give feedback on volunteers’ teaching and provide new ideas (from their previous experiences), Student Leaders can also team teach with volunteers to enable volunteers to see what others do in the classroom. All of this can help volunteers adjust to being in country relatively quickly, ensuring they can make the most out of their 4-6 weeks of being overseas.

The summer is our busiest time of year, as lots of students want to volunteer in their summer holidays, this means our Country Manager has lots of people arriving in country at the same time. Therefore our Student Leaders are able to support our Country Manager and help answer questions that volunteers have that would normally go straight to the Country Manager.

Additionally Student Leaders help to encourage further engagement with the host community outside of school, from running football clubs (which led to one volunteer this year training with Chiang Rai United!) to holding English lessons for the teachers to running activities in the host community which act as a language exchange.

Obtaining feedback from the relevant stakeholders is very important, as a small charity feedback is essential to enable us to continue to improve going forward. On the ground feedback is very important and Student Leaders are able to help us obtain this.

As a volunteer with VESL last year, I found that having a student leader with more experience than me but who also understood how I was feeling was extremely helpful. I felt I had someone who would always listen, give advice and help when I needed it and so I feel that the Student Leader role is very important to volunteers and to VESL.” Lucy Haworth, Past Volunteer & Student Leader 2013

What do our current Student Leaders have to say?

Student Leaders are also volunteers themselves and have some form of experience of volunteering overseas, whether that be through VESL or another organisation. We currently have four Student Leaders in Thailand and one in India and here is what they have to say about their experiences so far:

“I wanted to become a Student Leader with VESL so I could take look after volunteers, ensuring their stay in Thailand is worthwhile and that positive impacts are made in the communities in which they are based”, Andrew Durrant, Past volunteer (2012) and Student Leader (2013)

“Being a student leader has enabled me to visit all my volunteers projects and ensure everything will go smoothly on the volunteers arrival. It allows me to help the volunteers if they have any issues to ensure they have the most amazing experience. I have been able to coordinate volunteer meetings and extra teaching activities, for example in the evenings I have set up a class that teaches English to members of the local community and volunteers are able to help out, also I have helped to organise a volunteer to teach children football at school, ensuring volunteers are able to make the best possible impact. I feel it allows the volunteers to make the most of this opportunity without having the complication of dealing with the logistics of the projects and dealing with the language barrier which can be daunting in the first few weeks.” Francesca Wilson, Student Leader 2013

“I applied to the Student Leader programme thinking that if I was able to have an experience even half as rewarding as when I was a volunteer then it would be a summer well spent! At the end of my second week as student leader I can say that it was the right choice, being able to travel around the region to check up on the volunteers and teaching at my old school has been immensely fun and even more rewarding than last time.” Matt Tomlinson, Past Volunteer (2012) & Student Leader (2013)

“As a Student Leader I help to support for my volunteers. It is important for volunteers to be fully prepared before entering their projects and also before leaving for their projects I was there for my volunteers to ask any questions, I also held meetings in order for volunteers to get to know each other. I am there for volunteers in country, as this is often a big adjustment, volunteers go through a period of settling in, there may be slight issues during this time. These issues can be easily solved, however without the Student Leader programme these issues can seem a lot more daunting, and volunteers find it useful having someone close by who can help. During my time in Thailand so far I have visited all of my volunteers schools before they arrived to build a relationship with all of the host families and schools, gain information about the schools and ensure the projects are suitable for the volunteers, I have also run an induction along with the other student leaders and VESL staff. This week has been the first week of the volunteers projects, I have kept in contact with them all to ensure that they are settling in and that there are no issues with teaching, I have been supporting volunteers who have been having trouble settling in, teaching with volunteers that are not yet as confident in front of a class of students that can’t understand them, teaching classes at my own project and also talking to members of my school and local schools about other potential projects that would benefit from the work that VESL does. ” Lucy Haworth, Past Volunteer (2012) and Student Leader (2013).


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